To mark the month of Ramadan, Defense Minister Ehud Barak has approved a series of gestures toward Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. At first glance, these gestures appear to be good news, but further examination reveals that most of them arejust recycled.
Reheat and serve
For example, one of thegestures is a promise to update the addresses of over 1,900 residents of the West Bank who are currently registered as residents of the Gaza Strip in the Israeli-controlled Palestinian population registry. There are approximately 35,000 people living in the West Bank in this situation. Some avoid leaving their homes and neighborhoods for fear that they will be removed to the Gaza Strip if caught by Israeli authorities. Updatingthe addresses of these individuals in the population registry would certainly make a dramatic change in the quality of their lives.
So what’s the problem? Well, in actuality, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu already promised to update the addresses of 5,000 Palestinians back in February of this year. Until recently, only 298 people had actually had their addresses changed, while the remainder had no choice but to wait patiently for the prime minister to make good on his promise. It now appears that the Ramadan group of “over 1,900 residents” actually represents a part of the same, original 5,000. So, to date, Israel has changed the addresses of just 2,254 people – less than half the number promised in February. In short: take some cold leftover gestures from February, reheat them, and serve them up as new in August!
Another gesture announced by Israel is to allow export of textiles, furnitureand agricultural products, namely potatoes. It turns out that export of these products will only be allowed to Arab countries or Europe – not to Israel and the West Bank, the traditional market for Gaza’s goods. Even if we assume that these export channels are potentially profitable (highly doubtful), Israel has not specified how many trucks of merchandise will be allowed to leave the Gaza Strip. Moreover, it is unclear whether the permission to export will still be in effect after the end of Ramadan. Leaving these questions aside, it is worth recalling that this is not the first time that the Israeli government has announced relaxations in restrictions on export.
Despite repeated government announcements – in December, February and April –of impending relaxations in restrictions on exports from the Gaza Strip, in reality the rate of export has actually declined. Between November 2010 and May 2011, Israel allowed an average of just 2.5 trucks a day to leave the Gaza Strip. Since May 12th, not a single truck has left the area. The gap between promises and reality could hardly be wider.
There are some new components in the Ramadan gestures, such as a promise to increase the number of merchants allowed to enter Israel and the West Bank. Once again, however, no specific numbers are provided. It is worth recalling that, prior to the Second Intifada, 500,000 exit permits were granted to Palestinian workers alonetraveling between the Gaza Strip and Israel during the months July through September. Today, Erez Crossingis almost entirely closed to passenger traffic, with the exception of prominent merchants and urgent humanitarian cases. Smaller-scale merchants and students wishing to study in the West Bank, for example, cannot obtain permits to leave the Gaza Strip, despite the avowed goal to develop the area’s economy.
Israel has also announced the transfer of three million cubic meters of water to the Gaza Strip per year, in an effort to improve the quantity and quality of drinking water in the area. The statement regarding the Ramadan gestures failed to note that this water will not be given to the Palestinians, but rathersold to them. Moreover, the sale of the water is being delayed due to negotiations over the price. Given that over 95 percent of the water in the Strip is unfit for human consumption, an additional source of clean drinking water could certainly help in improving the situation, if it actually makes its way to Gaza.
We note a similar problem regardingthe gesturesto allowthe transfer of building materials to 10 private factories in the Gaza Strip, under the supervision of the international community. Once again, it is unclear what and how much will be allowed in.Although there has recently been an increase in the range of building materials allowed into the Gaza Strip, the actual quantity of materials is still significantly below that which is required (less than 10% of what’s needed is entering). The materials are intended solely for projects funded and supervised by international organizations following the approval of the Palestinian Authority.
Gestures are all well and good. We can only hope that this time they will actually be implemented in full, and will not end up as unfulfilled promises waiting to be recycled for next time around.